Miami-Dade County

Jackson Health System board member resigns, calls for independence from political influence

After three years as a board member for Jackson Health System, Michael Bileca, a Miami-Dade Republican legislator, resigned last week, reaching the same conclusion that many have before him: Jackson needs to be independent of the County Commission.

Bileca, who was appointed to the board by the Miami-Dade Delegation, said this week that he’s “very proud” of his work on the Public Health Trust — the board that runs the county-owned hospital system — including oversight of the financial turnaround from a $400 million loss that nearly bankrupted Jackson in 2011.

“It was really time for a new member to enter onto the board,’’ Bileca said this week, explaining the reason for his Aug. 22 resignation.

But in his resignation letter and in statements afterward, he said he believes the future of Jackson depends on the Trust’s ability to “maintain autonomy from political governance pressures’’ — namely, the County Commission.

“In order to compete in our environment, in our marketplace,’’ Bileca said, “Jackson has to be insulated from political pressures where decision making gets tainted from political influence.’’

Bileca cited the selection of new hospital board members in June, when the County Commission passed over the Trust nominating committee’s top pick: Peter Bermont, chairman of the Trust’s pension plan subcommittee, and a former chairman and board member of Miami Children's Hospital.

“That was dismissed, and the commission went on to appoint who they wanted to, not going through the vetting process that we did,’’ Bileca said. “That for me is an example of, ‘We did our jobs. It was thorough. It was inclusive. We heard from multiple perspectives’. That should have been respected.’’

He pointed to another recent example of political influence: Negotiations between Jackson administrators and labor unions in January, when both sides announced they had reached a tentative deal to phase out an unpopular pay concession for health benefits, and award employees a one-time bonus.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez sharply criticized Jackson leaders for awarding the bonus, and the County Commission undermined Jackson’s plan to phase out the pay concessions over two years — by voting to restore the concession in a single year, putting more budget pressure on the hospital system.

“Our management team and our board, we have ... really built good will and morale with our team members,’’ Bileca said. “That also — in terms of the place that we got with the labor negotiations — was second guessed and changed.’’

Bileca’s comments echo those of other Jackson and community leaders who have complained for years about the way the hospital system is governed, with the County Commission able to overturn any action by the board.

In September 2009, the Trust asked the commission to consider a public referendum for voters to approve a special taxing district so Jackson could be free of the commission and establish its own taxing policies. The commission did nothing with the request.

Then in August 2010, a Miami-Dade grand jury report on Jackson opened with this sentence: “What a colossal mess.” The report concluded that “the governance system must be changed.’’

Others, including groups of Miami-Dade civic and business leaders, also have called for Jackson’s independent governance, to no avail.

But efforts to reform Jackson’s governance structure have succeeded, notably the reduction of the Trust’s size from a 17-member panel to a seven-member board, which occurred as a result of the hospital system’s financial crisis in 2011.